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Only at the Vuelta a España would a parcours featuring eight summit finales be considered a “balanced route.”
After back-to-back climb-heavy routes, including no less than 13 uphill finales in 2013, the 69th Vuelta will see a more varied course, offering a bit of something for everyone.
Think Vuelta light.
According to details leaked in the Spanish media ahead of Saturday’s official presentation, the 2014 Vuelta features eight summit finishes, three time trials, three more stages with short, punchy finales, and the remainder offered up for the sprinters and stage-hunters.
The race opens August 23 with a short, 12-kilometer team time trial in Jerez de la Frontera, and wraps up in Galicia with another short, 10km individual time trial (there’s a longer, 34.5km ITT at stage 10), skipping the traditional finale in Madrid in favor of five closing stages in Galicia in northwest Spain.
The opening week through the heat of southern Spain should make the sprinters happy, giving them several shots at a mass gallop before the first major climbing stage at La Zubia in stage 6. Stage 9 features another hilltop finale before the first rest day ahead of the longest time trial.
The route skips the Pyrénées and Andorra, traditional Vuelta stops, only skirting the mountain range with a new climb near Pamplona at San Miguel de Aralar.
Three straight climbing stages across Asturias and León in stages 14-16 should see the first real battles between the main GC contenders.
The Vuelta wraps up in the rugged, undulating hill country of Galicia with the five final stages, including the fearsome Ancares climb on the penultimate stage, and a closing-day time trial in Santiago de Compostela to assure a nail-biting conclusion.
In any other race, such a course would be considered a climber’s paradise, but Vuelta organizers wanted to reel in a bit of the difficulty in this year’s edition following complaints that the past few Vueltas have simply been too demanding and offered too few chances for the sprinters.
Even in a slightly less-demanding route, the Vuelta course will certainly deliver up some exciting drama, especially with the world championships slated for Ponferrada, Spain, less than two weeks following the closing stage in Galicia.
The Vuelta should attract one of its strongest fields in years, especially with a hilly world championships waiting.
Among the names that are already planning on targeting the Vuelta include Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), 2012 winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha). All three shared the 2012 podium, and their presence will assure a strong Spanish field for the season’s final grand tour.
Reigning champion Chris Horner is still on the job market, and it’s still uncertain if he can defend his red jersey, let alone race in 2014.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) also might race the Vuelta as part of a Giro d’Italia, Vuelta, and worlds treble. The same goes for compatriot Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
Other top names looking to hone form ahead of the worlds will likely start as well, including Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), three-time world champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma), and perhaps the likes of Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
2014 Vuelta a España route (some distances not yet finalized)
Stage 1, August 23: Jerez de la Frontera, TTT, 12km
Stage 2, August 24: Algeciras to San Fernando, 170km
Stage 3, August 25: Cádiz to Arcos de la Frontera, 188km
Stage 4, August 26: Mairena del Alcor to Córdoba
Stage 5, August 27: Priego de Córdoba to Ronda
Stage 6, August 28: Benalmádena to La Zubia *
Stage 7, August 29: Alhendin to Alcaudete, 165km
Stage 8, August 30: Baeza to Albacete, 207km
Stage 9, August 31: Carboneras to Estación Valdelinares Teruel, 168km *
Rest day, September 1
Stage 10, September 2: Monasterio de Veruela to Borja, ITT, 34.5km
Stage 11, September 3: Pamplona to San Miguel de Aralar *
Stage 12, September 4: Logroño-Logroño
Stage 13, September 5: Belorado to Obregón
Stage 14, September 6: Santander to La Camperona *
Stage 15, September 7: Oviedo to Lagos de Covadonga *
Stage 16, September 8: San Martín de Rey Aurelio to Lagos de Somiedo/Farrapona *
Rest day, September 9
Stage 17, September 10: Ortigueira to A Coruña, 174km
Stage 18, September 11: A Estrada to Monte Castrove en Meis, 173km *
Stage 19, September 12: Salvaterra de Miño to Cangas do Morrazo, 176km
Stage 20, September 13: Santa Estebo de Ribas do Sil to Ancares, 163km *
Stage 21, September 14: Monte Galas to Praza do Obradoiro/Santiago de Compostela, ITT, 10km
* Summit finale